Fans in Portland may have noticed Stephanie Catley helping push the Thorns FC attack forward from the left side; the tan-skinned Australian's sunbleached bun sticking straight up on the top of her head as she picks out crossing forwards for pinpoint accurate passes into the box. Although just 20, Catley has taken on a growing role for the Thorns since her arrival just over a month ago. But how did she end up in Portland, a world away from the land down under?
At the age of six, Catley joined her first football club in her native Melbourne. Playing at East Bentleigh FC, Catley followed in the footsteps of older brother Daniel, and was the only girl on her squad at a club with no women's team. A self-described tomboy growing up, she was more than happy to join in with the boys around her.
"It was a good club and I was friends with a lot of boys," said Catley. "It accelerated my career a little bit, I think."
Although soccer has been her passion from a very young age, Catley's family isn't a soccer-crazed group. Mother Lesley, a customer service representative, and father Stephen, who works in online advertising, were relative novices to the sport when their kids engaged in the club down the street. As their children became fanatics, the Catleys slowly familiarized themselves with the world's sport.
Free from the pressure of archetypal sporting parents, Catley's own initiative stands all the more impressive as a factor in her remarkable yet short senior career. Moving quickly through the ranks in Australia, at the age of 13 Catley moved from East Bentleigh to Sandringham, one of the largest soccer clubs in Victoria. In 2009, Catley signed with the Melbourne Victory, a women's professional team playing in Australia's first division W-League. She scored seven goals in 52 appearances, becoming one of the best young international defenders in the world.
Now in Portland, Catley faces a whole new set of challenges.
Despite having significant international experience for the Australian national team, this is the first time Catley has lived abroad and outside her native Melbourne with any permanence. For Catley, getting acclimated to the Rose City has been aided in part by Portland's affinity for fresh java.
"In Melbourne, coffee is a big in thing in our culture, so I've gone to many cafes," said Catley. "Portland reminds me a bit of Melbourne in some ways, which has been really good."
The call of home has not been far from Catley during her time in the States and abroad. A huge dog lover, she still Skype’s back home so she can see her corgi, Bentley, and interact with her family regularly.
"He wouldn't look in the camera, so I ended up buying a little squeaky toy," laughed Catley. "Now I squeak it and he looks directly at the camera."
It has also helped that the Thorns organization is so tightly knit among the players. Group dinners, night’s out and other team events have seen Catley's transition easier than previously thought. But a personal comfort level with the girls off the field doesn't change that Catley is still adjusting to playing with her new teammates on it.
"It's a different challenge," said Catley. "You have to learn how different players play and where they want the ball. We're getting there."
With her teammates including three different national team captains in Christine Sinclair (Canada), Nadine Angerer (Germany) and Vero Boquete (Spain), Catley has been impressed with the level of intensity here in the United States. The quality in training, how often players train and the atmosphere around the club in Portland in particular have all made Catley glad she the jump to the Thorns. A true competitor down to the core, the 20-year-old Catley's goals are nothing shy of world-class themselves.
"I want to play in a World Cup and an Olympics with my national team," said Catley. "And in Portland I just want to make sure I stay in the starting XI and help us get three points, week in and week out."